LEE DEVELOPS INTO AN ACE
|Lee won the 2008 AL Cy Young Award with Cleveland|
|Jayson Werth raises 2008 World Series trophy|
On Wednesday night, October 29, 2008 at Citizens Bank Park, the Philadelphia Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays took to the field to resume Game Five of the World Series.
The Phillies had fought their way to a 3-1 lead in the Fall Classic, and needed just one more victory to secure only the second world championship in franchise history.
Game Five had originally begun two nights earlier, on Monday, October 27. However, rain began to fall early on that night, and grew to torrential proportions by the middle innings.
After the Rays tied the game up at 2-2 in the top of the 6th inning, Major League Baseball finally stepped in, and the game was suspended.
After two days of rains, the two clubs finally re-took the field in South Philadelphia. Geoff Jenkins got the home crowd stoked immediately, bombing a double to center field off of Rays reliever Grant Balfour. Jimmy Rollins then bunted him over to third base.
With the go-ahead run just 90 feet away from home plate, Jayson Werth stepped into the box. On a 2-2 pitch, the Phillies right fielder looped a base hit into center field, scoring Jenkins to put the Phils back on top 3-2.
The two clubs would trade runs in the final frames, and the Phillies would memorably mob closer Brad Lidge on the mound after the final out.
Just yesterday, while playing in the minor leagues of the Washington Nationals organization, Werth revealed that he was retiring from professional baseball.
This brings to the end a career that saw him appear with the Toronto Blue Jays (2002-03), Los Angeles Dodgers (2004-05), Phillies (2007-10) and the Nationals (2011-17) over parts of 15 seasons.
During his four seasons with the Phillies, Werth produced a strong .282/.380/.506 slash line. He slammed 95 homers, drove in 300 runs, scored 320 times, and stole 60 bases.
Compare those numbers to those produced by Jim Thome in his four seasons here in Philadelphia, and you will find that Werth is certainly worthy of consideration to be enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame at some point in the future.
However, he is going to have to wait a bit. Most of those 2008 World Series champions are now gone from the game. A number of them are going to be honored before Werth can be considered.
Left fielder Pat Burrell is already on the Wall of Fame. ‘Pat the Bat’ played his final season with the San Francisco Giants in 2011.
Third baseman Pedro Feliz last appeared in the big leagues with the Saint Louis Cardinals in 2010. He bounced around the minors, winter leagues, and independent leagues for a couple of years, and has not played at all since 2014.
The center fielder, Shane Victorino, won another World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2013. ‘The Flyin’ Hawaiian’ last played for the Los Angeles Dodgers back in 2015.
It was a mid-season 2016 career finale with the Chicago White Sox for Jimmy Rollins. The heart and soul of the Phillies for a decade and a half and the franchise’ all-time Hits leader, ‘JRoll’ could make an intriguing candidate for the Baseball Hall of Fame one day.
Ryan Howard never wore another uniform in a regular season MLB game other than that of the Philadelphia Phillies, finishing up his career here with the 2016 season.
He tried a comeback last year with both the Atlanta Braves and Colorado Rockies, but ‘The Big Piece’ couldn’t get out of either minor league system. While not officially retired, he is not getting back to the big leagues.
Carlos Ruiz was with the Phillies into the 2016 season, during which he was dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers. ‘Chooch’ played in 53 games last year with the Seattle Mariners, but at age 39 has been unable to catch (pun intended) on with any club here in the 2018 campaign. His career also appears to be over.
The key bench players, Jenkins, Chris Coste, Eric Bruntlett, Matt Stairs, and Greg Dobbs are all long gone from the playing field. Dobbs was the last, playing with the Nationals and Miami Marlins during the 2014 campaign.
On the mound, the ‘Ancient Mariner’, local hero Jamie Moyer, finally aged out of the game after hanging around into his age 49 season with the Colorado Rockies in 2012.
Brett Myers had a few successful years with the Houston Astros. His career ended after four appearances with the Cleveland Indians in the 2014 season. He has now transitioned into a country music recording career.
A home run hero in that World Series, Joe Blanton was able to transition into a successful reliever for a few teams, including a pivotal role with an LA Dodgers team that reached the NLCS in 2016. He finished up with the Nats a year ago, and is now into wine production in northern California.
Two men pitched at the back end of the Phillies rotation that season, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton. Kendrick got back to the bigs last year with the Boston Red Sox, but has not been able to catch on anywhere this year. He appears done at just age 33. Eaton last pitched in the 2009 season with the Colorado Rockies.
Lidge stayed with the Phillies through the 2011 season, then had one more year with the Nationals in 2012. Chad Durbin and J.C. Ramirez of the ‘Bridge to Lidge’ bullpen finished up in 2013 and 2012 respectively. Durbin wrapped his career with 16 final ineffective innings with the Phillies.
Clay Condrey and Scott Eyre were two more key members of that bullpen. Each retired following the 2009 return to the World Series with the Phillies.
So if you are wondering if anyone is left, the answer would be that there are now just four active players in Major League Baseball who played with those 2008 World Series champion Phillies.
Cole Hamels is still with the Texas Rangers after being dealt for a big package of prospects in late July 2015. He is actually now once again considered a trade candidate, and at age 34 could even return to the Phillies.
A 25-year old at the time, J.A. Happ appeared in just eight games with those 2008 Phillies, making just four starts. He was dealt to the Houston Astros in 2010 as part of the Roy Oswalt trade, and has had a solid big league career. Happ is another valuable trade candidate now at age 35 with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The best story of this dwindling group belongs to relief pitcher Ryan Madson. Now 37 years old, Madson was passed over by the Phillies when he became a free agent following the 2011 season.
Madson signed with the Cincinnati Reds for $6 million. He would never pitch in Cincinnati, suffering a torn ligament in his right elbow during spring training of 2012. Missing the entire season and most of 2013, he was unable to get back to the big leagues. When no one signed him for 2014, Madson retired.
But that was not the end of his story. After three seasons away from MLB due to that elbow injury, Madson decided to give it one more try. He was signed by the Kansas City Royals, and incredibly made the team. Not only that, he became one of the most effective relievers in baseball once again, helping the Royals to win the World Series in 2015.
Madson has continued his late-career renaissance, earning himself $20 million worth of contracts over the last three seasons. He continues to pitch out of the Washington Nationals bullpen, and Phillies fans will likely get a chance to see him this weekend.
That leaves one man to cover, and he is ‘The Man’, Chase Utley. Now aged 39, the gray-haired Utley is still plugging away with the Los Angeles Dodgers out in his native California.
Long past the all-star days when he was the game’s top second baseman, Chase provides a veteran presence off the bench in his fourth season for a Dodgers team that hopes to contend.
Jayson Werth is retiring, and then there were four. Chase Utley, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, Ryan Madson. Who knows, we might even get to see one of them back in a Phillies uniform before they finally decide to hang it up for good. It won’t be long. Another two or three years, perhaps, and they will all be gone from the game for good.
But for Phillies fans, they will never be forgotten, and they will be feted at numerous reunions in the future. In fact, the first of those will officially take place on August 5 of this season. That night, the Phillies will honor the 10th anniversary with a formal reunion on Alumni weekend.
The odds just became greater that Werth will be able to join the others already scheduled to attend. But since it’s a Sunday, and all the MLB teams will be scheduled to play, you won’t see the other four. There own reunion is coming, certainly by the 20th anniversary in 2028.
|Dusty Baker’s Nationals need two wins (photo: Chicago Tribune)|
The Washington Nationals are on the brink of postseason elimination. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
This year’s version of the Nats will take the field on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field in Chicago trailing the host Cubs by 2-1 in a best-of-five NLDS.
Whether they are willing to admit it or not, the Nationals will face another opponent today as well. That opponent lives inside their own heads and hearts.
This 2017 MLB postseason marks the fourth time in the last six years that Washington has participated in the National League Division Series. They have been eliminated in each of the previous three opportunities.
Winning today will not take the pressure off the Nats. Forcing a Game Five back at Nationals Park on Friday would not prove a thing. For the Nationals to show that this year’s team is different from those previous playoff clubs, they must win two straight.
At the start of this series against the defending World Series champions, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was quoted by Todd Dybas for The Washington Times on prior October failures.
“I don’t think about what you haven’t done. You think about what you can control, which is the power of now. We’re in it now. I’ve been through a number of these where there a lot of unlikely heroes. Guys that should be heroes aren’t and guys you don’t count on being heroes are. It’s hero time. Guys are born and made during this time.”
Baker has indeed “been through it”, as both a player and manager. This is his second year with the Nats, so the second time he has taken them this far. He skippered the Cincinnati Reds to the playoffs twice, the Cubs once, and the San Francisco Giants three times, including a tough seven-game loss in the 2002 World Series.
In last year’s NLDS, his Nationals team held a 2-1 lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game Four, the Dodgers tied things up with a 6-5 victory. The unlikely Joe Blanton entered to strike out Anthony Rendon with runners on 1st and 3rd and two outs after the Nats had rallied to tie at 5-5.
Then in the decisive Game Five, it was another 2008 Phillies World Series player who became the unlikely hero. This time it was Carlos Ruiz, whose pinch-hit RBI single put LA on top 2-1 in the top of the 7th inning. The Dodgers went on to a 4-3 victory, eliminating the Nationals.
This year, down 1-0 in games to the Cubs and facing a 3-1 deficit in Game Two with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning, Baker witnessed that “hero time” that he had been calling for at the start. It came in the form of lightening bolts from two more likely sources.
First, Bryce Harper delivered a mammoth game-tying two-run homer. Three batters later, Ryan Zimmerman crushed a go-ahead three-run home run to center field. Four outs from a 2-0 series deficit, the Nationals had their heroes, and had tied the series.
Unfortunately, those offensive heroics did not carry over to Game Three. Washington was held to just three hits by Jose Quintana and three Chicago relievers, eking out a 2-1 victory on Anthony Rizzo’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 8th inning.
The Cubs have not blown out the Nationals. What their pitching has done, aside from a four batter sequence in that Game Two 8th inning, is completely shut down the Washington lineup.
Trying to stay alive in Game Four, the Nationals will have to find a way to score against Cubs ace Jake Arrieta and a talented Cubs bullpen now rested thanks to Tuesday’s rainout. Baker will send Stephen Strasburg out to start, trying to keep his team’s season alive.
Strasburg was reported to be ill and unavailable had the game been played as originally scheduled. The one-day delay was apparently enough for him to recover sufficiently to at least give it the old college try for as long as he can remain effective, and then turn it over to the pen.
The franchise has played in Washington as the Nationals since 2005. Prior to that, there were 36 seasons as the Montreal Expos. In all that time north of the border, there was just one playoff series, a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers in the 1982 NLCS.
The Nationals still have the talent and firepower to win back-to-back games from the Cubs and capture this series. Now, that is exactly what they must do. Win two straight, or as with all four previous postseason teams over the franchise’ 48 previous years, they will fail to win a playoff series, and will go home disappointed.